The AFC North blog received a strong response from fans when asked to give their favorite memories of Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, who announced his retirement last month. Here's a sampling of what followers of this blog had to say about Ward:
Jackie (Los Angeles): I have so many memories of Hines that it's almost impossible to pick one. But I think my favorite would have to be in the 2010 playoffs, when we played Baltimore in the divisional round. We were down by seven points, having come back from a 14-point deficit. Ben Roethlisberger threw the tying touchdown pass to Hines. I just remember seeing that famous smile, and the energy level at Heinz was insane. I could almost feel it watching TV at home. That moment was just amazing, seeing him celebrate with his teammates. I'll never forget that game.
Yeshaya (Chicago): My favorite memory came against the Falcons in 2007. Ward caught a pass across the middle and out ran cornerback DeAngelo Hall for a 70-yard TD, losing his right shoe in the process. The TV's caption was "Hines Ward 70-yard TD (30 yards with one shoe)"
Stephen P (New York, N.Y.): My greatest memory of Hines Ward came off the field, after the Steelers lost to the Patriots in the 2004 AFC Championship Game. In an interview the next day, Hines was distraught about the fact that Jerome Bettis (in what looked like his last year) would finish his legendary career without a ring. Tears streaming down his face, he explained, "I wanted to win more for him than for anything, because he deserves to be a champion." As the ultimate team player, and the heart and soul of the Steelers, Hines embodied the emotions felt by all of Steeler Nation. And by the way, he ended up sending Jerome off as a champion the next year, MVP of the Super Bowl.
John (North Canton, Ohio): Two years ago, I had the opportunity to hang out on Heinz field before a Steelers game. We were instructed to stay on the designated sideline and end zone areas to avoid speaking to and distracting the players. Hines saw me watching him warm up, and after tossing the ball with a trainer, he turned around and tossed it to me. We played catch back and forth for a minute or two until he said he had to go. He then thanked ME for playing catch with HIM. His class and character are two of the many reasons my Hines Ward jerseys, all four of them, are now retired, too.
Lon (Kansa City, Mo.): I'm a transplanted 'Burgh boy living in Kansas City. My wife was pregnant with my oldest son when the Steelers drafted an undersized former QB from Georgia with their (compensatory) 3rd round round draft pick in 1998. Now, just days ago sitting here with my almost 14-year-old son watching Hines give his retirement speech...couldn't help but think how fast time flies when you're having fun. Thanks Hines for everything! We will miss your tough catches for first downs when we needed them most, your crushing blocks that had linebackers complaining about rough treatment from WRs, and above all, your smile! You're the consummate football player, pro, and thankfully, Steeler for life! Black and Gold forever!
Joe (Richmond, Va.): I was driving back home one sunday night a few years back. Being a avid Steelers fan, I was franticly searching my AM dial for the Ravens-Steelers game. As luck would have it, I got a scratchy signal out of Pittsburgh and I hear the announcers saying how badly Hines is getting inside the DB's head that was covering him. Play after play they remarked about how Hines was aggravating this guy. I got home to see the game on TV and sure enough Pittsburgh gets in a 3rd and long situation. As the play is run there is a flag thrown -- unnessesary Roughness called on the DB covering Hines. It game me a new perspective on how good Hines really was. He was one of the best at playing the game inside the game.
Nick (Cleveland): As a Browns fan, my memories of Hines Ward will always be his [expletive] smile. There were so many times I wish someone on my beloved Browns could slap it off his face, but we never did. Now that he is retired, I can see myself always referring back to that smile. He was one of the greatest complete wide receivers I had the displeaure of watching bury my Browns year after year in his storied career. Glad to see him go out on a high note. Take care Hines! IMO, a sure fire Hall of Famer.
Ian (Ohio): My favorite memory of Hines Ward was in Super Bowl XL when Roethlisberger handed the ball off to Antwan Randel El who then found a wide-open Hines Ward in the endzone. Ward skipped over the goal line and had a smile from ear to ear.
Donald (Pittsburgh): I was 75 years old when I first met Mr. Ward. I am totally deaf. I lost my hearing in the navy when a cannon blast shattered my ear drums. I won a contest on Mr. Ward's show to sit in the Best Seat in the House. Hines got to know me from the show. I was 75 and the Steelers celebrated their 75th anniversary. Later that year, I went to training camp and I cheered for Hines. Knowing that I had a hearing impairment our sign became the "peace" sign. This was our way of saying hello. After the Super Bowl win, Hines was signing autographs at a function and he recognized me and told his entourage that I was his right-hand man. I am now 80 years old and have had several chance encounters with Mr. Ward and he always remembers me and the peace sign as our special way of communicating. He truly is "special" and has a way of making others feel special.
Charlie (Leesburg, Va.): I'll never forget my first training camp visit in Latrobe. Young and bushy eyed trying to snag an autograph after practice, I quickly saw a crowd form on one end of the field. There was Hines signing for fans, interacting, and smiling as always. Success! My favorite player signed my favorite hat. Where some players ignore the crowd, Hines cherished it. He was a class act on and off the field and will go down as one of the greatest Steelers ever. Thanks Hines for all the great memories!